The 2016-2017 season has been a bit of a dark cloud recently as everyone knew that Jake Voracek and Michael Raffl would be unrestricted free-agents, while Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn would see restricted free-agency. That summer also includes some additional free agents (Ryan White, Luke Schenn, Yevgeny Medvedev, Radko Gudas, and Brandon Manning) but they are all either replacement level, unknowns, or simply unlikely to be back.
While it's been amazing to see Voracek turn into one of the game's elite wingers, Couturier become one of the best shut-down centers in hockey with hope for expanded offensive contributions, and Schenn and Raffl blossom into reliable ~20 goal scorers, the downside is that those players are going to get paid for that growth; some of them quite handsomely.
Last Tuesday we learned that Sean Couturier signed a six year $26 million extension good for $4.33 million against the cap when it kicks in. Two days later, there was more good news to the tune of an eight year $66 million extension for Jake Voracek, coming in at $8.25 million per year. While the large majority of Flyers fans seemed to be thrilled, some began to question the long-term ramifications; and more specifically how difficult next offseason may be when these two extensions kick in.
As it currently stands, the Flyers have $61.083 million committed to the 2016-2017 roster. That number includes nine forwards, four defenseman, and both goaltenders. Which means there's a need for four forwards and three defenseman.
For those of you that may be more graphically inclined (don't put much into the lines/pairings):
This year's salary cap is set at $71.4 million, so even if that remained the same, that would leave the Flyers with $10.317 million to spend on those seven open roster spots (which hopefully include key free-agents Brayden Schenn and Raffl). However, the salary cap isn't going to remain flat. Charlie recently wrote about Voracek's extension being a potential bargain and touched on a conservative projection for the cap.
This past year, the ceiling grew by 3.47 percent, a particularly small increase primarily due to the weakness of the Canadian dollar. To be conservative, let's assume that the ceiling increases by the same low rate.
So if we make that assumption, that would conservatively project next year's salary cap at $73.9 million. That bumps the available space to roughly $12.817 million.
There are two key questions that need to be answered with respect to next year's salary cap which greatly impact how troublesome next offseason could be.
What will it cost to re-sign Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl?
It's difficult to guess what it's going to cost to sign Brayden Schenn on his next contract. He has the sexier numbers when compared to Sean Couturier, and yet Couturier was clearly the priority, as Hextall has indicated "I'm not sure there will be a push" to sign Schenn this summer.
The same goes for Michael Raffl to some extent. The guy was a complete unknown just two years ago, coming from seemingly out of nowhere. Now he's a 20 goal scorer that can play up and down the lineup and, in my opinion, is the best fit at the top-line left wing position (if Hakstol decides to keep Giroux and Voracek together).
For the sake of this exercise (and full disclosure, I have not delved into contract comparables on either player), I'll project Schenn at the same cap hit as Couturier, as Couturier is likely being paid with the expectation that he makes a bit of an offensive jump. It's possible Schenn could get more if he shows continued growth beyond the 47 points he had last year.
Raffl will be coming off of a modest $1.1 million cap hit and after scoring 21 goals last year, I see no reason why he won't do something similar this year. I'm going to somewhat randomly pick a $3 million number out of the air, which I think/hope is a bit conservative.
Which prospects, if any, will be ready to be full-time contributors for 2016-2017?
I think it's safe to say that Scott Laughton should be a contributor by 2016-2017 as most expect him to be that this season. He'll still be under his entry-level contract then with a $863,333 cap hit.
With Schenn and Raffl re-signed, and Laughton being present in my fantasy scenario here, that leaves one forward spot left for what may just be the extra forward. That will likely go to either a replacement level player or perhaps a young prospect ready to be given a chance. So factor in a Ryan White, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, etc. So that we have a cap hit to work with here, I'll pick the most expensive which would be Cousins. He'll also be a restricted free-agent that summer, but if we give him the 105% qualifying offer that he would require that would bring his cap hit to $884,625.
It gets trickier on defense. As everyone knows the Flyers have their big-five defense prospects in Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Robert Hagg. If two of them are ready for full-time roles next season that is significant savings given they will be on their entry level contracts. Provorov and Sanheim are not only the two most likely, but also the two most expensive so we'll use them for this purpose.
Adding any two of those prospects brings the Flyers D to six, but an extra is needed. Like Cousins, we'll use Radko Gudas here at 105% of cap hit which would be $1.04 million.
So we've made a fair number of assumptions here, which is kind of a requirement when we're looking an entire season ahead, but I think most are pretty conservative. Consider that Schenn and Raffl re-sign, and that Laughton, Cousins, Provorov, Sanheim, and Gudas fill out the rest of the roster and the Flyers have a full 13 forwards, seven defense, and two goaltenders.
With the cap hit assumptions made the total commitment comes to $73.025 million which would leave almost $900k in cap space on our conservative guess for next year's salary cap.
So what's the takeaway? I think the biggest thing to take away is that there isn't a disaster scenario here. The Flyers could very well fit in everyone they'd like without having to make any substantial moves to clear cap space. However, let's not kid ourselves, there is still significant dead weight in RJ Umberger, Vinny Lecavalier, and Andrew MacDonald.
At a certain point, Ron Hextall is going to want to be a player in free agency. He may not be content to continue to keep what is pretty much the same exact team together, but with two of the big-five "graduating". Not to mention that if Schenn or Raffl have strong seasons, they could very well command more money than I accounted for. Or if some of the prospects aren't ready the Flyers won't be able to benefit from their small cap hit. There isn't much wiggle room.
On the other-hand, maybe Schenn and Raffl get even less than I anticipated. Or maybe the cap goes up significantly more. In which case the Flyers could have a little bit of space for a free agent signing.
Lastly, there is always the option of buying out Umberger and/or Lecavalier if trade suitors can't be found. Buying out Umberger next year would see $3 million in savings. He has the more amiable buyout schedule when compared to Lecavalier who would only bring a savings of just over $1.5 million.
So feel free to continue to revel in the Flyers having locked up two of their best and brightest young players. While they certainly aren't going to be overflowing in cap space next summer, I don't think there is anything to be all that worried about. In fact, the Flyers probably won't have to do anything to make it work. But whether or not they choose to make some moves in order to continue to shape the team is another matter.